Georg Wilhelm Steller

Georg Wilhelm Steller (10 March 1709 – 14 November 1746) was a German botanist, zoologist, physician and explorer, who worked in Russia and is considered a pioneer of Alaskan natural history.[1][2]

Haliaeetus pelagicus -San Diego Zoo -aviary-8d
Stellers jay - natures pics
Steller sea lion bull

Several animals described by and named for Georg Steller, of whom no portrait is known to exist.


Steller was born in Windsheim, near Nuremberg in Germany, son to a Lutheran cantor named Johann Jakob Stöhler (after 1715, Stöller), and studied at the University of Wittenberg. He then traveled to Russia as a physician on a troop ship returning home with the wounded. He arrived in Russia in November 1734. He met the naturalist Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt (1685–1735) at the Imperial Academy of Sciences. Two years after Messerschmidt's death, Steller married his widow and acquired notes from his travels in Siberia not handed over to the Academy.[3]

Steller knew about Vitus Bering’s Second Kamchatka Expedition, which had left Saint Petersburg in February 1733. He volunteered to join it and was accepted. He then left St Petersburg in January 1738 with his wife, who decided to stay in Moscow and go no farther. Steller met Johann Georg Gmelin in Yeniseisk in January 1739. Gmelin recommended that Steller take his place in the planned exploration of Kamchatka. Steller embraced that role and finally reached Okhotsk and the main expedition in March 1740 as Bering's ships, the St. Peter and St. Paul, were nearing completion.

Арка Стеллера
Steller's Arch on Bering Island

In September 1740, the expedition sailed to the Kamchatka Peninsula with Bering and his two expeditionary vessels sailing around the peninsula's south tip and up to Avacha Bay on the Pacific coast. Steller went ashore on the east coast of Kamchatka to spend the winter in Bolsherechye, where he helped to organize a local school and began exploring Kamchatka. When Bering summoned him to join the voyage in search of America and the strait between the two continents, serving in the role of scientist and physician, Steller crossed the peninsula by dog sled. After Bering's St. Peter was separated from its sister ship the St. Paul in a storm, Bering continued to sail east, expecting to find land soon. Steller, reading sea currents and flotsam and wildlife, insisted they should sail northeast. After considerable time lost, they turned northeast and made landfall in Alaska at Kayak Island on Monday 20 July 1741. Bering wanted to stay only long enough to take on fresh water. Steller argued Captain Bering into giving him more time for land exploration and was granted 10 hours. During this time, as the first non-native to have set foot upon Alaskan soil, Steller became the first European naturalist to describe a number of North American plants and animals, including a jay later named Steller's jay.

Of the six species of birds and mammals that Steller discovered during the voyage, two are extinct (Steller's sea cow and the spectacled cormorant) and three are endangered or in severe decline (Steller's sea lion, Steller's eider and Steller's sea eagle). The sea cow, in particular, a massive northern relative of the dugong, lasted only 27 years after Steller discovered and named it, a limited population that quickly became victim of overhunting by the Russian crews that followed in Bering's wake.

Steller's jay is one of the few species named after Steller that is not currently endangered. In his brief encounter with the bird, Steller was able to deduce that the jay was kin to the American blue jay, a fact which seemed proof that Alaska was indeed part of North America.

Могила Стеллера 01
A 2009 memorial to Steller in a riverside park in Tyumen, Siberia, where he had died of fever at age 37.

Although Steller tried to treat the crew's growing scurvy epidemic with leaves and berries he had gathered, officers scorned his proposal. Steller and his assistant were some of the very few who did not suffer from the ailment. On the return journey, with only 12 members of the crew able to move and the rigging rapidly failing, the expedition was shipwrecked on what later became known as Bering Island. Almost half of the crew had perished from scurvy during the voyage. Steller nursed the survivors, including Bering, but the aging captain could not be saved and died. The remaining men made camp with little food or water, a situation made only worse by frequent raids by Arctic foxes. Despite the hardships the crew endured, Steller studied the flora, fauna, and topography of the island in great detail. Of particular note were the only detailed behavioral and anatomical observations of Steller's sea cow, a large sirenian mammal that once ranged across the Northern Pacific during the Ice Ages, but whose surviving relict population was confined to the shallow kelp beds around the Commander Islands, and which was driven to extinction within 30 years of discovery by Europeans.

Based on these and other observations, Steller later wrote De Bestiis Marinis (‘On the Beasts of the Sea’), describing the fauna of the island, including the northern fur seal, the sea otter, Steller's sea lion, Steller's sea cow, Steller's eider and the spectacled cormorant. Steller claimed the only recorded sighting of the marine cryptid Steller's sea ape.

In early 1742 the crew used salvaged material from the St. Peter to construct a new vessel to return to Avacha Bay and nicknamed it The Bering. Steller spent the next two years exploring the Kamchatka peninsula. Because of his sympathies for the native Kamchatkans, he was accused of fomenting rebellion and was recalled to Saint Petersburg. At one point he was put under arrest and made to return to Irkutsk for a hearing. He was freed and again turned west toward St. Petersburg, but along the way he came down with a fever and died at Tyumen.

His journals, which reached the Academy and were later published by Peter Simon Pallas, were used by other explorers of the North Pacific, including Captain Cook.

Steller manatee statue 1
A statue in Bad Windsheim commemorating Georg Wilhelm Steller

Discoveries and namesakes

Georg Steller described a number of animals and plants, some of which bear his name, either in the common name or scientific:

There is a secondary school in Anchorage, Alaska named after him: Steller Secondary School.


  1. ^ Evans, Howard Ensign. Edward Osborne Wilson (col.) The Man who Loved Wasps: A Howard Ensign Evans Reader. in: Evans, Mary Alice. Big Earth Publishing, 2005. pp. 169. ISBN 1555663508
  2. ^ Nuttall, Mark. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. Routledge, 2012. pp. 1953. ISBN 1579584365
  3. ^ Egerton, Frank N. (2008). "A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 27: Naturalists Explore Russia and the North Pacific During the 1700s". Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. 89 (1): 39–60. doi:10.1890/0012-9623(2008)89[39:AHOTES]2.0.CO;2.
  4. ^ IPNI.  Steller.

Further reading

  • Leonhard Stejneger - Georg Wilhelm Steller, the pioneer of Alaskan natural history. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1936.
  • G. W. Steller - Reise von Kamtschatka nach Amerika mit dem Commandeur-Capitän Bering : ein Pendant zu dessen Beschreibung von Kamtschatka. St Petersbrug, 1793. Full text
  • Georg Steller - Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741-1742 edited by O. Frost. Stanford University Press,1993. ISBN 0-8047-2181-5
  • Walter Miller and Jennie Emerson Miller, translators - De Bestiis Marinis, or, The Beasts of the Sea) in an appendix to The Fur Seals and Fur-Seal Islands of the North Pacific Ocean, edited by David Starr Jordan, Part 3 (Washington, 1899), pp. 179–218
  • Andrei Bronnikov (2009). Species Evanescens [Ischezayushchi vid] (Russian Edition). Reflections, ISBN 978-90-79625-02-4 (a book of poetry inspired by dramatic events of Steller's life).
  • Ann Arnold (2008). Sea Cows, Shamans, and Scurvy Alaska's First Naturalist: Georg Wilhelm Steller. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Marcus Köhler: "Völker-Beschreibung". Die ethnographische Methodik Georg Wilhelm Stellers (1709–1746) im Kontext der Herausbildung der "russischen" ėtnografija. Saarbrücken 2008. (about Steller's importance for the development of modern ethnography as a science)
  • Dean Littlepage (2006). Steller's Island: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska. The Mountaineer's Books. ISBN 1-59485-057-7
  • Barbara and Richard Mearns - Biographies for Birdwatchers ISBN 0-12-487422-3
  • Corey Ford, Where the Sea Breaks its Back, 1966. Anchorage: Alaska Northwest Books, 1992. ISBN 978-0-88240-394-6
  • Steller's 1741 expedition from Kamchatka is covered in Orcutt Frost's Bering: the Russian discovery of America (Yale University Press, 2004).
  • Steller is the subject of the second section of W. G. Sebald's book-length poem, After Nature (2002).
  • A somewhat fictionalized account of Steller's time with Bering is contained in James A. Michener's, Alaska.

External links

Coordinates: 58°25′47″N 154°23′29″W / 58.42972°N 154.39139°W

1741 in science

The year 1741 in science and technology involved some significant events.

Bad Windsheim

Bad Windsheim is a small historic town in Bavaria, Germany with a population of almost 12,000. It lies in the district Neustadt an der Aisch-Bad Windsheim, west of Nuremberg. In the Holy Roman Empire, Windsheim held the rank of Imperial City (until 1802). Since 1810 Windsheim is part of Bavaria. In 1961, it became a spa town and has since been called "Bad Windsheim".

Bering Island

Bering Island (Russian: о́стров Бе́ринга, ostrov Beringa) is located off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea.


Hydrodamalis is a genus of extinct herbivorous sirenian marine mammals, and included the Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), the Cuesta sea cow (Hydrodamalis cuestae), and the Takikawa sea cow (Hydrodamalis spissa). The fossil genus Dusisiren is regarded as the sister taxon of Hydrodamalis: together, the two genera form the dugong subfamily Hydrodamalinae. They were the largest member of the order Sirenia, whose only extant members are the dugong (Dugong dugon) and the manatees (Trichechus spp.). They reached up to 9 metres (30 ft) in length, making the Steller's sea cow among the largest mammals other than whales to have existed in the Holocene epoch. Steller's sea cow was first described by Georg Wilhelm Steller, Cuesta by Daryl Domning, and Takikawa by Hitoshi Furusawa. The Steller's sea cow was the only member of the genus to survive into modern times, and, although had formerly been abundant throughout the North Pacific, by the mid 1700s, its range had been limited to a single, isolated population surrounding the uninhabited Commander Islands. It was hunted for its meat, skin, and fat by fur traders, and was also hunted by aboriginals of the North Pacific coast, leading to its and the genera's extinction 27 years after discovery. The Cuesta sea cow along with the Takikawa sea cow were probably extinct at the end of the Pliocene due to the onset of the Ice Ages and the subsequent recession of seagrasses—their main food source.

Cladogram on the relations of the hydrodamalines based on a 2004 study by Hitoshi Furuwasha


The Itelmens (Itelmen: Итәнмән, Russian: Ительмены) are an ethnic group native to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. The Itelmen language is distantly related to Chukchi and Koryak, forming the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family, but it is now virtually extinct, the vast majority of ethnic Itelmens being native speakers of Russian. A. P. Volodin has published a grammar of the Itelmen language.

Native peoples of Kamchatka (Itelmen, Ainu, Koryaks and Chuvans), collectively referred to as Kamchadals, had a substantial hunter-gatherer and fishing society with up to fifty thousand natives inhabiting the peninsula before they were decimated by the Cossack conquest in the 18th century. So much intermarriage took place between the natives and the Cossacks that Kamchadal now refers to the majority mixed population, while the term Itelmens became reserved for persistent speakers of the Itelmen language. By 1993, there were less than 100 elderly speakers of the language left, but some 2,400 people considered themselves ethnic Itelmen in the 1989 census. By 2002, this number had risen to 3,180, and there are attempts at reviving the language. According to the 2010 census, there were 3,193 Itelmen in Russia.

Itelmens resided primarily in the valley of the Kamchatka River in the middle of the peninsula. One of the few sources describing the Itelmen prior to assimilation is that of Georg Wilhelm Steller, who accompanied Vitus Bering on his Great Northern Expedition (Second Expedition to Kamchatka).


Kutka, also styled as Kutga or Kutku, is a creation deity of the Itelmens of Kamchatka. Some sources indicate he was a supreme deity but others see him being subsidiary to Dusdaechschitsh, a uniquely supreme being. His wife, Chachy, is smarter than him.

His son is Haetsch.

Leonhard Stejneger

Leonhard Hess Stejneger (30 October 1851 – 28 February 1943) was a Norwegian-born American ornithologist, herpetologist and zoologist. Stejneger specialized in vertebrate natural history studies. He gained his greatest reputation with reptiles and amphibians.

List of botanists

This is a list of botanists who have Wikipedia articles, in alphabetical order by surname. The List of botanists by author abbreviation is mostly a list of plant taxonomists because an author receives a standard abbreviation only when that author originates a new plant name. Other botanists are listed here.

List of foreign observers of Russia

In the following list of foreign observers of Russia dates are normally date of first publication, or other appropriate date where this is not possible

922: Ahmed ibn Fadlan travelled from Bagdad to near Kazan, saw Vikings

c. 950: Ahmad ibn Rustah went to Novgorod

c. 1241: Snorri Sturluson described Rus chieftains as typical Vikings

c. 1300: Marco Polo mentioned Russia as a distant country in the far north

1476: Ambrogio Contarini Venetian ambassador to Persia, passed through Moscow. Early (earliest?) printed source

1486: Iurii Trakhaniot Muscovite ambassador to Milan, interviewed by Milanese officials, their report possibly not published

1487: Giosafat Barbaro Venetian to Sea of Azov, published 1543

1515 Jacob Piso: Polish anti-Russian propaganda, never in Russia

1517: Maciej Miechowita "first accurate geography of Eastern Europe"

1519 Christian Bomhover: Teutonic Knight, first book solely on Russia, very hostile, never visited Russia, little cited by later authors.

1525–1543: Albert Compense, Paolo Giovo, Johan Fabri: Favorable accounts in interest of church union. Never in Russia.

c. 1527: Sigismund von Herberstein, Habsburg ambassador to Moscow. Saw government as despotic. Much copied by later writers.

1553: Richard Chancellor reached Muscovy via the White Sea, wrote Booke of the Great and Mighty Emperor of Russia

1561–1583: During the Livonian War a number of anti-Russian pamphlets published in the German lands.

1578: Heinrich von Staden German soldier, in oprichnina

1586: Antonio Possevino Papal diplomat

1589: Richard Hakluyt published voyages of the Muscovy Company

1589: Anthony Jenkinson, with Muscovy Company, to Moscow, Astrakhan, Bukhara and Persia, published in Hakluyt

1591: Giles Fletcher, the Elder English ambassador to Muscovy, wrote Of the Russe Common Wealth

1607: Jacques Margeret French mercenary, 'first printed French book on Russia'

1610: Isaac Massa Dutch merchant and envoy, via White Sea

1615: Peter Petreius Swedish diplomat, wrote History of the Grand Duchy of Moscow

1617: Conrad Bussow German involved in Time of Troubles

1621: Jerome Horsey with Muscovy Company

1647: Adam Olearius Holstein ambassador to Persia via Muscovy and the Volga

1653: Paul of Aleppo favorable view of an Orthodox theocracy. In Arabic, English translation 1829

1663: Juraj Križanić Croat and proto pan-slav. Advocated liberalizing reforms similar to the later enlightened despotism

1671: Samuel Collins (physician) physician to the Czar

c. 1678: Nicolae Milescu Moldavian in Siberia and China

c. 1680: Patrick Gordon: Scots soldier, left diary

1682: John Milton A Brief History of Muscovy compiled from other sources

1687: Foy de la Neuville possibly travelled in Russia

1701: Dembei Japanese castaway taken to St Petersburg

1712: Tulishen Manchu ambassador to Russia and the Kalmycks

1721: Friedrich Christian Weber German diplomat

c. 1723: Lorenz Lange Swede in Siberia and China

1729–1732: Two Chinese embassies to Russia

c. 1733: Johan Gustaf Renat Swede captured by Russians and then Dzungars. Mapped Siberia and Dzungaria

1746? Georg Wilhelm Steller journals of the Bering expedition

1751: Johann Georg Gmelin, with Bering, botany of Siberia

1757: Gerhard Friedrich Müller, with Bering, examined Siberian archives

1771: Peter Simon Pallas German natural historian

1784: William Richardson (classicist) Scots traveler

c. 1829: Alexander von Humboldt German naturalist

1839: Marquis de Custine very hostile

1847: August von Haxthausen publicized the peasant commune

1870: George Kennan (explorer) in eastern Siberia

1876: Edward Delmar Morgan British traveler and translator

1877: Donald Mackenzie Wallace British journalist

1894: Constance Garnett translated Russian novels

1909: Jeremiah Curtin visited Buryats

1913–1919: Arthur Ransome English author, journalist and translator; witnessed revolution

1919: John Reed (journalist) witnessed revolution

Mount Steller

Mount Steller is the name of two significant peaks in Alaska, presumably both named for naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, an early European visitor to Alaska:

Mount Steller (Chugach Mountains), a peak at the far eastern end of the Chugach Mountains

Mount Steller (Aleutian Range), a volcanic peak on the Alaska Peninsula

Mount Steller (Aleutian Range)

Mount Steller is a stratovolcano in Katmai National Park in Alaska, United States. It is part of the Aleutian Range and is located on the Alaska Peninsula.

The mountain was presumably named for the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. While evidence is uncertain, the volcano is believed to have erupted during the Holocene epoch.

Mount Steller (Chugach Mountains)

Mount Steller is a peak at the far eastern end of the Chugach Mountains of Alaska, United States. It is notable for its isolated location among extensive icefields, and for its large rise above local terrain. For example, it rises 8000 feet (2440 m) above the Bering Glacier to the south in about 4 horizontal miles (6.4 km).

Mount Steller is the high point of Waxell Ridge, an east-west trending ridge on the south side of the Bagley Icefield, one of the largest icefields in North America. The large Bering Glacier flows past the east and south slopes of the ridge, while the Steller Glacier flows from its west side.

The mountain was named for the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller.

Due to its isolated location, poor weather, and comparatively low absolute elevation by Alaskan standards, Mount Steller was not climbed until recently. The first ascent was in 1992.

Short-tailed albatross

The short-tailed albatross or Steller's albatross (Phoebastria albatrus) is a large rare seabird from the North Pacific. Although related to the other North Pacific albatrosses, it also exhibits behavioural and morphological links to the albatrosses of the Southern Ocean. It was described by the German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas from skins collected by the Georg Wilhelm Steller (after whom its other common name is derived). Once common, it was brought to the edge of extinction by the trade in feathers, but with protection has recently made a recovery.

Steller's sea ape

Steller's sea ape (Simnia marina danica) is an unconfirmed marine animal described from a single sighting by explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller on August 10, 1741, in waters off the Shumagin Islands, Alaska. This is the only animal described by Steller that has not been corroborated by physical evidence or other witnesses.

Steller's sea cow

Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) is an extinct sirenian discovered by Europeans in 1741. At that time, it was found only around the Commander Islands in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia; its range was more extensive during the Pleistocene epoch, and it is possible that the animal and humans previously interacted. Some 18th-century adults would have reached weights of 8–10 t (8.8–11.0 short tons) and lengths up to 9 m (30 ft).

It was a part of the order Sirenia and a member of the family Dugongidae, of which its closest living relative, the 3 m (9.8 ft) long dugong (Dugong dugon), is the sole surviving member. It had a thicker layer of blubber than other members of the order, an adaptation to the cold waters of its environment. Its tail was forked, like that of cetaceans. Lacking true teeth, it had an array of white bristles on its upper lip and two keratinous plates within its mouth for chewing. It fed mainly on kelp, and communicated with sighs and snorting sounds. Evidence suggests it was a monogamous and social animal living in small family groups and raising its young, similar to extant sirenians.

Steller's sea cow was named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist who discovered the species in 1741 on Vitus Bering's Great Northern Expedition when the crew became shipwrecked on Bering Island. Much of what is known about its behavior comes from Steller's observations on the island, documented in his posthumous publication On the Beasts of the Sea. Within 27 years of discovery by Europeans, the slow-moving and easily caught mammal was hunted into extinction for its meat, fat, and hide.

Steller Secondary School

Steller Secondary School is an alternative school located in Anchorage, Alaska. It is based on the philosophy of responsible freedom, personal initiative, and individualized education. The Anchorage School District established the school in 1974 as a response to a proposal by the Committee of Alternative Secondary Education. Steller was named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist from Germany who traveled with Vitus Bering on an exploratory voyage to Alaska. The school was named after him because of his independence, love of knowledge, courage, and pioneering spirit.

Steller sea lion

The Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), also known as the northern sea lion and Steller's sea lion, is a near-threatened species of sea lions in the northern Pacific. It is the sole member of the genus Eumetopias and the largest of the eared seals (Otariidae) and is also the largest sea lion. Among pinnipeds, it is inferior in size only to the walrus and the two elephant seals. The species is named for the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described them in 1741. The Steller sea lion has attracted considerable attention in recent decades owing to significant, unexplained declines in their numbers over a large portion of their range in Alaska.


Stellerite is a rare mineral discovered by and named after Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German explorer and zoologist. The mineral has a general formula of Ca[Al2Si7O18]·7H2O. Like most rare minerals, there are few commercial uses for stellerite. Mineral collectors are lucky to find it in good enough crystal form. Zeolites, including stellerite, have been studied using a dehydration process to gauge the potential use of their phases as molecular sieves, sorbents, and catalysts.


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